Review: In Naples concert, Shostakovich wins the battle of the big names on a small stage

Shostakovich wins the battle of the big names on a small stage

Classic Chamber Concerts No. 3 was a kitchen sink of a program. Literally.

At one point, thanks to the surrounding set onstage from the current Naples Players production of "Barefoot in the Park," we watched as one musician sorted his music over its kitchen sink.

But the program was a wide and deep vessel in other ways, with music ranging from Handel to Bach to Shostakovich and an encore of Tchaikovsky. Not enough composers? What if we told you the Tchaikovsky work had been arranged for piano by Smetana?

And the instruments: In addition to the standard chamber orchestra inventory, count in a baritone vocalist, a piccolo trumpet — a diminutive and higher-voiced version of the standard one — and a harpsichord.

What came from this musical mélange at Sugden Community Theatre were a satisfying rendition of "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from Handel's "Messiah," a rousing Shostakovich Concerto for Piano and Trumpet and a somewhat tense rendition of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto N. 2.

The "Messiah" segment sparkled with the clarion solos of the Florida (Tampa Bay) Orchestra's principal trumpet, Robert Smith. Knife-sharp and note-perfect, Smith threatened to overshadow Graham Fandrei, whose impressive control and articulate vocals were formidable assets on this difficult work. With string sections of the Fifth Avenue Chamber Orchestra under the guidance of the visiting Jasper Quartet, it was invigorating music.

The Brandenburg Concerto, however, demonstrated the difficulties of programming a year in advance for a stage that may be packed with the furnishings of fellow tenant. With both a harpsichord and a grand piano, which was awaiting the second half; 23 orchestra musicians; five ensemble players; and a conductor all onstage, even taking a breath must have been a major ordeal. Worse, the five ensemble members had to play out of sight of the conductor, artistic director William Noll, heightening the opportunity for misfires.

That didn't happen, and it's a tribute to the solid ensemble — J Freivogel on violin, Wendy Willis on flute, oboist Adam de Sorgo, and Kristopher Marshall and Smith on horns — that the piece held together. But there seemed to be a sense of anxiety among the players, and Marshall clearly was not having his best evening. He missed opening notes to the signature final segment of the Brandenburg concerto and the final movement of the Shostakovich as well.

Otherwise, the Shostakovich was a firework of a piece with Philipp Kopachevsky as its pianist. Is there such a thing as a utility virtuoso? Kopachevsky, who is familiar here for his finely textured readings of 19th-century masters, also nailed the frenetic, anxious 1933 work.

And then he played an encore of two dances from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," an arrangement which required him to be an entire orchestra. And doubtlessly to use every key in the piano for its rolling arpeggios in the Pas de Deux.

Both Handel and Bach pieces are popular classical fare, but the Shostakovich was clearly the headliner. It doesn't progress; it careens, cutting dizzying swaths into self-parody — there are said to be references to his stage works in it — and personal paranoia. Its moderate third movement does a gentle backdive into the all-hands-on-deck finale, and Kopachevsky's sound turned from tender into tough in split seconds. To its credit the Fifth Avenue Chamber Orchestra and the Jasper Quartet wheeled right with him, nailing its precision pauses and vigorous runs.

As ambitious as the program was, we would have hoped for a stage that gave it the space it deserves. But we'll take music like this any way we can get it.

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